Streaming music to multiple sets of speakers across a house used to be an expensive and hugely time consuming task to set up. This blog post goes through the various steps I went through to solve this cheaply and reviews a few devices that I tried before I found my solution.
Staying at a friend’s house I saw that I could play my music from my iPad to the main living room speakers. They had a Belkin Bluetooth Music receiver (Amazon £26.99) which you would simply connect to and it would cause your music to be streamed seamlessly to the speakers that were plugged into the back of it via a 3.5mm headphone jack.
It worked pretty well but another guest thought there were some issues with the quality (which I didn’t actually notice). It basically just allows you to plug your music device in over Bluetooth.
Having researched more in order to install at this person’s house I saw there was a Logitech Wireless Speaker Adapter one which had slightly better reviews and was also slightly cheaper (Amazon £25.99).
Immediately we popped to the shops to grab one (out of lack of patience). The Logitech one worked very well too from Apple devices – you just go to Settings->Bluetooth->”and select the Logitech device”. Whatever sound is currently playing will immediately play (including YouTube or other music apps).
The only difference I really noticed between the Belkin and the Logitech was that there were phono audio cables out the back of the Logitech box, as well as a headphone jack that is on both. I don’t think there would be much change in music quality though (I certainly can’t notice a difference). Also you had to sometimes hit the connect button on the Logitech box to reconnect which was a bit annoying as it means you can’t pack it away out of sight really (not to mention you would lose the Bluetooth quality). I would rate these two boxes as pretty similar really.
Unfortunately with both of these devices you have to reconnect on your Apple device to the Bluetooth box every time you come back after leaving the room which can be annoying.
This house has very thick walls which caused the music to stop playing in the living room if you took the iPad out to the kitchen. This was frustrating and the thick walls also prevented the Wifi connection.
We went to get a wifi booster anyway which made me think there must be a wifi solution to the music – so if we solve the lack of wifi in the living room then we can connect speakers to it!
This Belkin wifi booster (N300 Dual-Band Wi-Fi Range Extender) was great as well. Simply plug in and follow the few simple instructions to create your wifi with the same password but by default “_xt” on the end of it. It worked perfectly to get the wifi in the next room. You can even link them over and over again to extend the network as far as you want in this mesh network.
After searching the web some more to solve our issues I found there is a perfect solution from Apple. The Airport Express that will let you stream using their AirTunes technology. It will also boost a wifi network should you want it to. There are added benefits of it being Apple so no doubt easy to set up and there are USB ports that allow you to plug in a hard drive for more streaming or adding it to the network.
It is really simply to set up – just download the Airport utility (your computer or mobile device) and follow the simple instructions where you can decide whether to connect to an existing Wifi network, extend it or just connect via ethernet cables. You can then enable the AirPlay speakers and name your speakers that will plug into it. I have “Master Bedroom” and “Living Room” as mine. You can also password protect certain speakers should you be on a shared network where you don’t want your flatmate to be able to play music in your room without your password.
You can also download various apps for phones/computers that will let you use them as AirPlay Speakers. I can now use my laptop as a set of wireless speakers and my desktop (Shariport is the app for Windows)! You can do the same for phones and tablets – a great article about it here.
All in all the Apple Airport Express (Amazon £73.34) solved my friend’s problems with the Wifi and the music streaming in a really nice way. It is a little bit more expensive than both a wifi booster and a bluetooth receiver but the ability to play multiple rooms at the same time is a feature that is worth it.
The quality is mostly ok, there are a few issues moving around when the wifi signal drops – but all in all I am very satisfied with this solution and it is a hell of a lot cheaper (and better) than a custom Crestron multi thousand pound solution!
There is another option available: Sonos Connect (Amazon £279) but the only benefit that I can see to that is you get access to the Sonos app to stream music. There are plenty of these around now – Spotify, Deezer, Youtube etc… I really don’t see why anyone would buy the Sonos system when they can use their existing speakers and just plug in a small Apple box.
Also if you connect up the “Remote” application and turn on “Home Sharing” on all of your devices you can stream any music from any device to any set of speakers in your home! e.g. from my iPad I can play my laptop music through my TV and from my iPhone I can play my desktop music through my laptop! It is all a bit unnecessary but also great fun and very useful.
Apple TV basically allows you to do the same with video which I might have to think about getting!
In summary: Apple Airport is a great device to stream music around the home. Much better than the bluetooth Belkin and Logitech ones in terms of connection and being able to play what you want in what room, and much better than Sonos and Crestron in terms of price. Also the Apple box extends wifi without having to buy another device.